The Summer Olympics in Japan are three years away, so why wait? Another robust summer rivalry already is here, featuring ruthless competitors battling unfriendly elements in a game of endurance.
Let the 2017 Office Thermostat Wars begin!
The uniform is simple: men in suits or sport coats, and loafers with socks. Women in lightweight summer blouses or dresses, sandals — and four sweaters.
The rules also are simple: Men turn down the thermostat in the office to a perfect 68 degrees. Women punch it up to a perfect 72 degrees. Building management can be called only 10 times in a day.
Repeat until September.
“It’s a tricky situation,” said a laughing Lindsay Baker. “One person’s too cold, one’s too hot — it’s the wonderful diversity of human nature.”
(For more on that, she directs us to a “Game of Thrones” spoof, called “Why Summer Is Women’s Winter,” on YouTube.)
Despite her levity, Baker takes your workplace comfort very seriously. She’s president of Comfy, a software solutions company in Oakland, Calif., that created a smartphone app allowing individuals to warm or cool their surrounding space instantly.
When connected to a company’s heating and cooling system, the app offers “a little burst of cool or warm air to your area on demand,” Baker said. “Over time, it tunes and balances people’s preferences and gives the people managing workplaces greater insight into what people actually want in their space.”
Comfy is one of a growing number of 21st-century solutions to the age-old problem of conflicting comfort levels in shared office spaces.
Honeywell is piloting its Honeywell Vector Occupant App, which allows smartphone users to inform facility managers when their work areas are too hot or too cold, in a crowdsourcing scenario.
Worker bees then receive confirmation that the issue is being addressed, said Himanshu Khurana, the Golden Valley-based leader of engineering and global innovation for Honeywell Building Solutions.
“It gives people a voice about their preferences and makes it easy to do so,” Khurana said, noting that facilities folks aren’t always trained to see things from “a human perspective.
“We are social creatures,” he said. “We like to work with others.”
Especially when we’re all comfortable.
With collective feedback from, say, five people agreeing that the temp is too hot or too cold, building managers can first check to see if they’re all sitting under a vent that’s blasting cold air. Maybe a cubicle can be moved to a different spot, or two small zones can be created.
“Gathering input is more meaningful and helps to manage spaces better,” Khurana said.
We’ve come a long way since the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers determined many decades ago that the ideal temperature for large buildings was around 68 degrees, dandy for a businessman in a suit.
Twin Cities-based talent manager Celia Siegel remembers working in an office of all women many years back where office temp was never a problem. Then she shifted to an agency in Los Angeles “with a bunch of suited men.”
She said, “I took a space heater to work and was ridiculed. My toasty L.A. summer at the office was foiled when I blew the fuse of the entire agency at the height of the business day. After that, I wore a sweater to work.”
She will be happy to hear that indoor recommendations have since been revised upward quite a bit — ranging from 68.5 to 75 degrees in the winter, and 75 to 80.5 in the summer, taking into account clothing selection.
Yet, temperature control continues to rank, and rankle.
Office comfort is one of the top three most important physical features in an office, Baker said. The issue also stirs up the lowest employee satisfaction ratings.
A too cold or too warm environment is bad for morale and thus bad for business, she said. Discomfort slows productivity, distracts us and can even make us sleepy, Baker said.
Fixing the problem is part of bigger industry trends to “make workplaces more people-centered,” she said. “It’s spurred on by larger trends such as wellness and an increasingly tech-savvy workforce.”
While it’s hard to wrap my cold shoulders around this, Baker said comfort levels are tied less to gender than we might assume.
Analyzing more than 30,000 Comfy app-user clicks to “warm my space” or “cool my space,” Baker’s team found a good number of men “who prefer very warm temperatures north of 78 degrees, and women who prefer temps under 70. We see people who want a warm space on one day and a cool one on the next.”
People’s preferences shift even over the course of the same day. People who run hot tend to feel that way mostly in the afternoon. Those who feel cold feel that way mostly in the morning.
Whether one feels too hot, too cold or just right depends on many factors outside of gender, Baker said. What did you eat recently? Did you just work out? What are you wearing? Where are you sitting?
“The chances of two people being in the same thermal zone at the same time and wanting different things is less than 2 percent,” she said. Thus, infighting is rare, she said. But Comfy app users are encouraged to “make sure you aren’t the only one who feels [cold or warm] before you push the button.”
With no app in use in my little corner of the world, I’m keeping my sweater within reach.
For now, at least.
“Maybe in the future,” Baker said, “every desk will have its own heating and cooling.”
Honeywell’s Khurana looked into his own heartwarming crystal ball. “We’re excited about what we are learning,” he said. “The best solution is to realize the comfort of people before they complain.”